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Ireland's High-Performance Computing Centre


Ireland is committed to establishing a world-class research environment characterised by world-class research outputs, populated by researchers of excellence working within a world-class research infrastructure (as per the 2006 Strategy for Science, Technology and Innovation). The provision of high-end computing resources for computational scientists is integral to the achievement of this overall vision. Computational modelling now plays an increasingly important role in modern science and engineering – and is increasingly recognised as the third pillar of scientific inquiry following theory and experiment, and no country can expect to offer an innovative and competitive research environment without a strong and dynamic research base in computational modelling. The ability to perform internationally competitive research and to attract to Ireland the best computational scientists requires the ready availability of high-end computational (HEC, often also referred to as high-performance computing or HPC) resources.

Ireland already has sufficient demand to justify a national facility for the provision of high-end compute resources to the research community. The Irish Centre for High-End Computing (ICHEC) was established in response to this demand and to extend both the computational science expertise and IT skills-base of Ireland through programmes of training and education. With highly skilled staff, ICHEC is able to leverage its expertise to provide up-skilling services to the research and broader communities and to engage in technology transfer with the commercial sector, particularly Irish small and medium enterprises (SMEs). ICHEC also recognises that the provision of a centralised HEC facility must align itself with and participate actively in EU-wide HPC consortia which seek to consolidate and foster both a pan-European world-leading computational science research infrastructure and develop a persistent pan-European high-performance leadership-class computing service and infrastructure.

Accordingly, the primary objectives of ICHEC are firstly, to address the need for HPC facilities and support at the national level and secondly, to act as the national access point to trans-national European HPC facilities. It undertakes the following actions and activities in support of this:

  • The provision of central capacity and capability services
  • Developing a network of points of presence and points of contact within the research institutions to ensure education and training is delivered where it is most effective
  • The provision of technology transfer and consultancy services to industry
  • Engaging with EU organisations and consortia such as PRACE and DEISA to ensure the Irish research community is linked to Europe’s most advanced facilities in HPC

ICHEC is committed to delivering and supporting world-class services in furtherance of its goals for future development identified in its Strategy to 2013 and the accompanying implementation plan detailed in this submission. In formulating its strategy and supporting development programme, ICHEC has taken into account analysis and feedback received from Reviewers of previous funding submissions.

Benefits of the ICHEC Programme

We have laid out an ambitious, yet realistic and achievable, programme for the development and delivery of high-end compute resources to the research community in Ireland over the next five years and outlined a plan to engage directly and positively with industry and semi-state organisations to facilitate and deliver knowledge and technology transfer. The availability of these high-end compute resources is widely regarded as a crucial element for economic success and the application of computer modelling to science and engineering promises to revolutionise the speed and diversity of technological development. It is essential therefore for Ireland to have the computing infrastructure and IT-literate workforce to take advantage of these opportunities.

After a three-year settling-down period, ICHEC provides a clear, national focus for the development of supercomputing and is in a strong position to deliver these services and infrastructure across all of the institutions and disciplines and to allow Ireland’s research community to be competitive in the arena of world-class research.

The benefits of ICHEC’s development programme are not limited to the research community. They will have significant wide-ranging impact across many sectors including the commercial and industry sectors and education.

Benefits to Ireland

Fulfilling ICHEC’s strategic goals will provide benefits to Ireland in a number of ways:

  • An international reputation to attract the best of business and academic research in Ireland: by ensuring that Ireland is recognised internationally as a country embracing the concept of a high-tech knowledge economy. As a national centre, ICHEC proved instrumental – if not essential – in gaining access to continental scale initiatives such as PRACE. Through gaining credibility in this area, Ireland will become more attractive to hi-tech businesses and distinguished researchers, safe in the knowledge that Ireland has the infrastructure, expertise and intellectual environment to support their research, a benefit closely aligned with SFI’s mission.
  • Transferrable skills to indigenous business and industry: the development of an IT-literate workforce, capable of embracing and promoting advanced technologies. Effectively, post-graduate students benefiting from ICHEC’s training and consultancy will bring this specialised knowledge and skills to their employers, and they are a particularly effective vehicle for technology transfer to business and industry.
  • Attract inward investment by international ICT companies: in serving as a point-of-contact for computer companies, ICHEC will facilitate foreign direct investment into Ireland by high-technology enterprise. It is likely that IBM would not have shown such an interest in developing their HPC workforce in Ireland without the presence of a National HPC Centre here. Other major HPC vendors have since expressed interest in following in their footsteps and developing a presence in Ireland, also with ICHEC as a privileged partner.
  • Improve business productivity and increase IP generation: the development of computer modelling and software development expertise within industry will enable faster realisation of design targets, the reduction of experimental costs and an improvement in national competitiveness. Application areas are broad-ranging, and highly relevant to indigenous industries from the genomics and pharmaceutical industries, to ICT companies, the food industry, but also to any area where novel application of ICT, such as machine-vision driven technologies for instance, are important. Such technology transfer activities are typically “IP rich”, and therefore potentially yield concrete and immediately tangible benefits for the Irish economy.
  • Achieve international competitiveness by pooling resources: by aggregating resources across all the institutions, ICHEC provides a cost-effective way for Ireland and its research community to remain internationally competitive. Investing in a national infrastructure makes it economically viable – and indeed favourable – to acquire both high-throughput and capability systems that no single HEI could afford on their own.
  • National impact, international leadership: ICHEC’s compute services and support staff are enabling the national weather forecasting service, Met Éireann, to engage with new, high resolution software to improve its forecasting model. The benefits of this collaboration are clearly reaching Irish society at large. Furthermore, ICHEC’s partnership with Met Éireann means that Ireland has now been recognised as a major player in the field of weather forecasting and climate modelling in Europe, through the key roles played by its partnership in the Harmonie and EC-Earth projects.

Benefits to Education and Research Sector

Research is a critical element of Ireland’s future development in the scientific and engineering arena. Ireland’s HEIs have placed great emphasis on the advancement of Higher Education research programmes. ICHEC sees itself as a critical component in the development and sustainability of research programmes in Ireland and ICHECs development programme provides large-scale benefits for the Irish research community.

In addition to the above, ICHEC will provide particular benefits for the academic sector, which include:

  • Improving the productivity and transferable skills of new post-graduate students, and promoting best practice: ICHEC will provide bespoke software engineering for scientists and engineers, to promote the adoption of best practice in software engineering, particularly among new postgraduate students. This will promote code re-use and maintainability within a group, and reduce the development phase, allowing students to focus on their research, instead of spending unproductive time debugging codes.
  • Providing the knowledge to compete at the highest level: training and education for students, postdocs and staff are essential for the Education and Research sector to undertake internationally competitive research; ICHEC’s ambitious programmes meet this need.
  • Meeting prerequisites to attract high-calibre, computational scientists from abroad: ICHEC provides Ireland with a national infrastructural resource in computational science with both capacity and capability beyond what could be provided in any one institution. Through ICHEC Irish researchers now have access to tens-of-teraflop-scale facilities with professional commensurate support. The availability of such a reliable infrastructure and of the support team to utilise it effectively, facilitates the recruitment of high-profile researchers from abroad (see benefits to Ireland above).
  • Facilitating the emergence of successful development of multi-disciplinary cross-institutional initiatives: through its model of specialised support scientists, ICHEC promotes cross-institutional collaboration (structuring effect), and knowledge transfer across disciplines. The direct result of this is that ICHEC can prove instrumental in setting up successful national initiatives for which HPC is one of the investigative tools (recent examples include ICHEC’s involvement in the bid to relocate CECAM to Ireland, as well as ICHEC’s involvement in the UCD/NUI Galway Systems Biology initiative).
  • Providing the tools to compete with the best on a level playing field: ICHEC provides a gateway to the EU’s supercomputing developments, and as such access to the most advanced large scale facilities, thus equipping our best researchers with the tools to compete with the best groups in the world (e.g. DEISA Extreme Computing Initiative).
  • Increasing productivity, decreasing time to solution: reducing time to solution metrics for existing users of the service through the provision of high availability, high throughput compute resources (e.g. in one extreme case, a PhD student claimed to have achieved a year’s worth of simulation in only a week at ICHEC, thus being able to focus on her research for the rest of the year).
  • Providing "usable power" on tap: as a professionally managed infrastructure, the HPC national service provided by ICHEC has been set up with user-friendliness in mind. Thus, front-line support through the Helpdesk, and in-depth sustained support through our team of support scientists, facilitate the migration of researchers new to HPC from their desktop workstations to our clusters, and allow experienced users to utilise resources more effectively through training and consultancy, as well as access to a feature-rich and user-friendly programming environment. ICHEC mission is to make HPC, “usable power".

Benefits to Business and Industry

Many of the benefits to industry have already been alluded to as part of the first section, “Benefits to Ireland”. ICHEC believes that partnership with SMEs has the potential to realise significant benefits for this sector, particularly when carried out in collaboration with other European centres which have already demonstrated well established credentials in this area, centres such as EPCC (UK) and SARA (NL) among others. ICHEC can:

  • Extend the reach of HPC, normally associated with large research areas, to the SME sector.
  • Provide consultancy and development advice to the SME sector, especially in software development (parallel programming) and testing, advice which may not be easily available from industry IT Consultancy companies, or not within financial reach of these SMEs.
  • Provide some SMEs with an understanding of the capabilities and advantages of HPC and parallel programming to their specific areas of operation.

Other Benefits

Other benefits include:

  • Accelerate knowledge transfer: by engaging with other HPC centres of expertise through point-to-point collaborative agreements and Memoranda of Understanding. This will enable bi-directional knowledge transfer (e.g. through secondments or consultancy) and the sharing of materials (typically, training material, but also technical material, software, etc.)
  • Broadening national impact: by developing our existing policy of engagement with governmental agencies and semi-state bodies such as Met Éireann within a collaborative framework